Head Coach Rick Barnes and No. 16 Tennessee finished off Georgia by a score of 66-61 to be named SEC Champions for the first time since 2008. Barnes earned his first win over Georgia Head Coach Mark Fox as head coach of the Volunteers. Forwards Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams combined for 55 points in the win.
The Vols got out of the gates quick with a 5-0 run, including a friendly roll on a 3-pointer from forward Admiral Schofield. However, the Bulldogs found their footing and took their first lead at the 16:41 mark. Georgia went on a 9-0 run behind a pair of 3-pointers to go up 9-5 after nearly five minutes of play.
Both teams hit a three-minute slump at the 14-minute mark. The teams combined for 7-of-23 shooting halfway through the first half. Tennessee started out cold at the butt-end of a 13-3 run from the Bulldogs with 16 minutes left in the half. But the Volunteers heated back up.
“I thought they were terrific in the first half, I thought we guarded well,” Barnes said. “We stayed with it…We were battling every possession.”
The orange-and-white finally knotted the game back up with 10:51 remaining in the first half with a driving layup from Williams. Georgia didn’t let up, as the Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run to make it a 21-13 game after Williams’ bucket.
Following a pair of questionable technical fouls called on Schofield and Bulldog Nicolas Claxton, Georgia finished five of its next six shots to go up 27-21 with less than seven minutes left.
The Volunteers did not score for the next three minutes. Schofield nailed a jumper at the 4:51 mark to put Tennessee within four points of the lead. Schofield made 4-of-7 shots, while the rest of his teammates went just 5-of-19 from the field with less than four minutes remaining in the first half.
However, Schofield’s efforts, 12 first half points, were not enough to put the Vols back in the lead. Tennessee fell behind 42-34 at the half. Georgia was a hot 58 percent from the field and 7-of-12 from 3-point range at the half. Meanwhile, the Volunteers were an abysmal 36 percent from beyond-the-arc and 34 percent from the field.
The Bulldogs gave Tennessee fits to start the second half. The Volunteers did not make a field goal for four minutes starting at the 19-minute mark. However, Tennessee managed to cut the deficit to 45-44 with back-to-back buckets from Schofield. The Vols forced a more than six-minute scoring drought from the Bulldogs who missed seven straight shots starting at the 19-minute mark.
Georgia finally stopped the drought with a layup from Claxton with more than 11 minutes left to play in the game. Still, Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner drilled a deep 3-point shot to tie the game up at 49 and turn the tide for the orange-and-white.
The Volunteers notched their first significant lead of the game at 55-53 with another clutch 3-point shot from Turner with a little more than six minutes left in the game.
Three minutes later, Williams fouled out on a questionable call, but Turner answered again for Tennessee with yet another 3-pointer to cut the Bulldogs lead to 61-60. A pair of free throws from Jordan Bowden and a fade away jumper from Schofield gave the Volunteers a 64-61 lead with under 30 second remaining. The rest is history.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Barnes said. “But we were much tougher in the last seven or eight minutes than we were in Athens.”
Forwards Yante Maten and Rayshaun Hammonds led the Bulldogs with a combined 30 points and 13 rebounds of the night. Jackson Williams II was the only other Georgia player with more than 10 points.
“It means the world man, it’s a blessing,” Williams said about being an SEC Champion. “We have a long way to go. It’s not over yet.”
Tennessee shares the SEC regular season title with Auburn (25-6) who got a win over South Carolina earlier in the day.
Next, Tennessee travels to St. Louis for the SEC Tournament as a No. 2 seed. The Vols earned a double-bye. Tennessee will play the winner of LSU and Mississippi State on Friday.
Edited by Lexie Little
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics